The Red Pyramid : The Kane Chronicles, Book 1, by Rick Riordan, 516 pp, RL 4
This review of The Red Pyramid is really an academic practice on my part. The books of Rick Riordan do not need my, or anybody's, publicity as, like Harry Potter, they are already incredibly popular and entrenched in lives of almost all young (and many older) fervent readers of fantasy. Interestingly, and based on a completely unscientific survey, I have found that many kids who love Riordan's books do not embrace Rolwing's, although I have not found the sentiment to work in the opposite direction - except with me. I was just whelmed (is that actually a word?) with The Lightning Thief, excited by the use of Greek mythology in the plot, but put off by the non-stop action and short-hand character development in the story. However, I wanted to give Riordan's books a second chance and it was with excitement and an open mind, I began The Red Pyramid, the first book in the Kane Chronicles, a series built around Egyptian mythology. While I was fascinated by the mythology and interested in the main characters, siblings separated some six years earlier after the death of their mother, I found the same frustrations arising midway through the book and the non-stop odyssey to save the world before it was destined to end - in five days. Also, I found Riordan's use of Egyptian mythology, while mostly on point (I researched it on my own, curious about the actual myths and Riordan's manipulation of them) almost too much at times. The myths, gods and goddesses themselves, which are succinctly detailed in The Kane Chronicles Survival Guide, a heavily, nicely illustrated little book that has the look and feel of a special, semi-secret academic work crossed with one of Candlewick Press's Ology books (and on Riordan's website), are packed densely into The Red Pyramid and difficult at times to keep straight, making them feel more vital to the scenery of the story rather than the plot itself. However, there is no denying that Riordan is a talented, masterful, if formulaic, writer who has given a gift to young readers by awakening their interests in mythology and folklore with his fast paced, richly detailed stories.
The Red Pyramid is presented as a transcript of an audio recording made by the siblings, each taking turns narrating the chapters. The narration begins with fourteen year old Carter Kane, the son of Julius Kane, a preeminent Egyptologist who is black, and Ruby Faust, an anthropologist specializing in ancient DNA, who is white. I mention this because I think Riordan has taken a great step here, creating main characters who are of mixed race. In doing so, he also added a layer to the character of Carter, who dresses like a little professor, always cautious of his appearance and the impressions he makes as a young black teen. When The Red Pyramid begins, Julius and Carter are headed for their annual day with Sadie, now twelve, who has lived with her maternal grandparents in England for the last six years. The three stop off at the British Museum where Julius has an appointment to view the original Rosetta Stone (a fake one, we learn, is sometimes on display) and things go horribly wrong. As Carter and Sadie discover, not only do they have royal blood in their veins but, after Julius's misstep, they have been possessed by the gods Horus and Isis, respectively. This also puts them at odds with the only people who might be able to help them, the House of Life. The House of Life is a sort of Hogwarts school for young magicians that was established during Ancient Egyptian times by the god of learning, Thoth. The magicians once worked together with the gods to grow their magical powers and better Egypt, but since the fall of Egypt they have worked to keep the gods from contacting mortals. One of the coolest aspects of the magic in The Red Pyramid is the his use of the duat which, in Ancient Egyptian is the realm of the dead, overseen by Osiris. In Riordan's novels, it also serves as a kind of magical locker that can be opened and accessed anywhere, depending on one's abilities. Magical items can be retrieved from it and things can be stored - or imprisoned - in it.
With the gods unleashed and the House of Life suspicious of Carter and Sadie, they have to rely on the few allies they can find, including Bast, the goddess of felines who owes a debt to Ruby and has been masquerading as Sadie's cat Muffin for the last six years, and Julius's brother, Amos, who quickly disappears. There is also Khufu, the basketball loving family baboon who only eats foods that start with the letter C. Because the gods and goddesses cannot create and are thus stuck repeating their stories over and over, the siblings must play out one of the old myths and fight the god Set, the god of deserts, chaos and evil, who, now free, is planning or turning all of the Americas into a desert, starting from his base in Phoenix, AZ. Riordan cleverly uses locations in America that have connections to Egypt. There is a visit to the Washington Monument, the biggest obelisk in the world and a stop over in Memphis to consult with Thoth, a professor in his human form. There is so much crammed into The Red Pyramid between the Egyptian mythology, the present day representations of this mythology and the non-stop action that I found it hard to keep up with the characters and various ancient story lines that were playing out. I stopped reading many times to look refer to glossary in the back of the book as well as other sources to keep everyone, what they represented and what their stories were, straight. I think most young readers will be more interested in seeing the action play out than they will the history of the mythology and I wish that Riordan's books could find a better balance between the two, bust I suspect that any move in this direction would make these books less astronomically popular than they are.
Source: Purchased Audio Book